For as often as people are willing to destroy the Pac-12, the Big East Conference has managed to avoid any such criticisms during the 2018-19 college basketball season.
If being honest, it’s difficult to pinpoint why.
It could be argued this is an exhibition of semantics. A person uses the conference’s previous successes against it, even holding unrealistic expectations as an unfair barometer. That could be fair — provided we didn’t already do that to every other league in the country.
As a college basketball-loving nation pushes for a three-bid SoCon, while shouting about the weakest bubble in years, the Big East Conference isn’t great. It’s a fine league; a close to good one, maybe. However, it wouldn’t normally deserve as many NCAA Tournament teams as it will receive this year.
The bids won’t be earned. They’ll be given by default. The Big East is, unquestionably, fortunate the field for March Madness is filled with schools unfit to don a pair of NCAA Tournament dancing slippers.
Someone will have to wear them. Might as well be a league with commercial appeal.
Boiled down, the league consists of a good Marquette Golden Eagles team, a down but still solid Villanvoa Wildcats squad, then a bunch of muck in the middle. Can a conversation develop about some of the middle-tier teams being good? Of course. Still, each happen to be seriously flawed in a way that should smother any hyperbolic ideas of greatness.
Are the St. John’s Red Storm swell? Is St. John’s a case of the players overcoming wretched coaching; overrated players being helped by solid coaching; or the overall record being misleading because of a very weak non-conference schedule?
How about the Georgetown Hoyas? Finally earning a signature win over the league’s flagship program, Villanova, the Hoyas followed that up by losing to 15-13 Creighton. Does anyone trust the work-in-progress Hoyas to be anything other than consistently inconsistent?
The Seton Hall Pirates are… something. Losses to Nebraska and Saint Louis early, followed by dropping one to the forever-awful DePaul Blue Demons, damaged their profile. Kevin Willard and company might have an overall record of 16-11, which is fine-ish, but they are only 7-8 in the Big East. Does this team inspire fear in its opponents?
Then there are the Xavier Musketeers. Having to deal with life after Chris Mack, the program has done an admirable job, defeating Villanova on Sunday in a legitimate upset. Having entered the season with minimal expectations, Xavier is currently tied for fourth place with Seton Hall. Are the Musketeers in fourth because they are good and/or exceeding expectations, or is this a result of the conference being down?
Questions over. For now.
Only Villanova, Marquette and St. John’s have winning records in Big East-play. An optimist can argue that’s a byproduct of tough programs cannibalizing each other. After all, if a league is full of great, parity-rich drama, it would be hard for more than one or two programs to separate themselves from the rest of the pack.
Then again, the ACC has eight teams with winning records in league play; the SEC has seven (two at .500); and even the Big Ten has six. As for the league dubbed the worst of the power players this season, the Pac-12, it has six. Obviously, to be fair to the Big East, some of those leagues have more teams.
Those are “glass mostly full views” of each league, especially the one which gives the Big East some leniency for simply not having a large number of teams.
If removing the lens of league reputation, however, things begin to get a bit murkier.
In 2019, what does the Big East offer the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee that other leagues lack? Outside of brand recognition, coupled with expectations, it’s not much; though given how poorly nearly every league’s collective resume is this year, this is still very much a four-bid league.
The Red Storm, the third-ranked team in the league, have a simple rating of 54 (rating based off SoS and average point differential). That’s the Big East’s (strictly by conference record) third-best team. In comparison, the Wofford Terriers, clearly the best team in a traditional one-bid league, are 42nd.
Georgetown is 76th. Seton Hall 59th. Xavier 72nd. Even Villanova is only a few spots higher than Wofford, sitting at 34th. For the sake of clarity, Marquette is a more than respectable 21st.
The maligned Pac-12 highlights this even better than an excellent low-major team. Arizona State’s SRS is 51, Washington’s 40th. Oregon State — the third-ranked team in the league — is 74th.
It’s worth mentioning the metric isn’t perfect, but it’s not the worst form of fancy-math available to the public. It does peg Duke as the best team in the land, Tennessee is seventh, and so on.
Point being, it’s not inaccurate in relationship to how the general public views the best teams in the nation — except, of course, when it comes to the Big East, a place in college basketball where a large benefit of the doubt is given.
Sure, it has been earned. In years past.
As for this campaign, it doesn’t matter what bells and whistles are attached to the Big East Conference. In an attempt to ask more than suggest or flatly declare, I’m not sure the league is earnestly good. It is more a case that its weaknesses are being masked thanks to the rest of the country also being in shambles.
Joseph Nardone has covered college basketball for nearly a decade at various outlets. You can follow him on Twitter @JosephNardone.
Don’t forget to subscribe to our newsletter below.